Sterilization and Disinfection: What’s the Difference?

Sterilization and Disinfection: What’s the Difference?

To the layman, the terms sterilization and disinfection might mean the same thing. You might have even thought of the same thing for some time now until you ran into this article. Don’t worry, you are not the only one that fell victim into this misconception. At face value, sterilization and disinfection do sound like they are pertaining to the same thing—to get rid of germs! To some extent, that might be true but there are distinct differences that separates the two. In this article, we are going to tackle all those differences in details so the next time you get services that offer either sterilization or disinfection, you will know exactly what they are up to!

Why does it Matter?

But before we go into the nitty gritty, you might be asking if knowing the difference really matters. We are currently facing a global crisis brought upon by the coronavirus (COVID-19). With this crisis at bay, we need to make sure our homes and workplaces are protected from this invisible threat. Knowing the difference between sterilization and disinfection is important to know how you can eliminate the virus from surfaces and the air that you are breathing. Arming yourself with the right information is the first step to ensuring that you and all the people you care about are well-protected. This is why we highly encourage everyone to get themselves familiar with the differences.

Definition of Sterilization and Disinfection

First off, both disinfection and sterilization are decontamination processes that aim to eliminate microorganisms. The major distinctions lie in four major categories namely their clinical definition, methods, types, and application. Sterilization Sterilization refers to killing and eliminating all microbes, whether it is harmful or otherwise (since there are also microbes that keep our guts healthy). This process is also highly effective at eliminating the spores that are present on the surface, in liquids, in medication, or in compounds such as biological culture media. Disinfection On the other hand, disinfection refers to the process of eliminating the most harmful microorganisms (not including their spores) from surfaces or objects. It targets vegetative microorganisms but is not strong enough to penetrate through their spores. These spores are one-celled microorganisms that can reproduce without sexual fusion as in fungi or bacteria.


In the next distinguishing category, you will see the varying methods by which both processes are done. You will notice how disinfection methods rely on chemical-based materials while sterilization relies more on the physical breakdown of the microorganisms to work. Sterilization The main methods of sterilization are physical, chemical, and physiochemical. Physical method, as the name suggests, use physical elements to break down the microorganisms. This method has several types which will be discussed later. Chemical method uses liquid and gaseous chemicals, while physiochemical is a combination of both methods. Disinfection Disinfection relies heavily on chemicals to eradicate microorganisms. These include phenolic disinfectants, heavy metals, halogens, bleach, alcohols, hydrogen peroxide, detergents, heating and pasteurization. By reading this extensive list, you might notice how all these are reported to be not safe for human ingestion, that is why you should wear protective equipment when you are disinfecting on a large scale.


Each method has its own type. Whether you are going to disinfect or sterilize, there are many types that you should know about to know which one is most appropriate for the surface and situation you are dealing with. Sterilization Physical types eliminate microbes by applying heat to targeted areas as in a hot air oven or by various methods of filtration. Radiation sterilization is another type that is useful for controlling microorganisms and are commonly utilized in clinical settings. In some cases where large surfaces have to be covered, chemical sterilization comes handy. The only caveat to this last method is that it can be pricey and risks for surface damage are apparent. Disinfection Disinfectants can come in various forms like air disinfectants, liquid alcohols, and many others. There are countless disinfectants available in the market today. You just have to find the one that works for you to be able to clean surfaces in a quick and easy way.


So, if sterilization is strong enough to penetrate through spores, why not just sterilize everything? Depending on your situation, you might be needing one more than the other. There are also restrictions like surface size and types that will most likely limit you to choosing only one decontaminating option. Here’s a quick application guide for sterilization and disinfection. Sterilization Sterilization is commonly used for food, medicine, and surgical instruments. We ingest food, while medical professionals need surgical instruments for internal operations. As such, sterile objects are required to prevent foreign microorganisms and spores from festering in our body. Disinfection Disinfection, on the other hand, is mostly used to decontaminate surfaces and air. Since disinfection involves chemical compounds that are harmful to the body, it is only practical to use this process on surfaces or objects that don’t have to ingested or inserted in the body. Disinfection is also more practical since it covers a large surface while eliminating germs and bacteria faster than sterilization.

Which one should you choose?

Different situations will call for different methods of decontamination. There are guidelines set by the Australian Health Authority if you want to dive deeper into this topic. When you browse through the internet, you will easily find information and guides on how to decontaminate your own home or office. However, we understand how important time is for you which is why we recommend working with a professional when it comes to these matters.

Choose to work with experts today!

If you are still unsure about how you want to go about decontaminating your home or office, contact Power Up Enterprises today. We provide high-quality sustainable solutions to facilitate cleaner, healthier, and more hygienic environments. Protect yourself and your family from the dangers of bacteria, germs, and coronavirus. You deserve to be guarded wherever you are. With our sterilization and disinfection services, you are assured with an environment you can safely live in. Contact us today and join us in the fight against coronaviruses and other threats to public health!